Mark Steyn comments on the Flight 93 memorial approved for a field somewhere in Pennsylvania, where on 9-11-01 Todd Beamer, Mark Bingham and co. forced down the airliner that was targeted for either Congress or the White House. This column appeared in the Irish Times on Monday and is available at Steyn's site, which has no archive. Therefore, extensive excerpts follow:
UPI’s Jim Bennett wrote, “The Era of Osama lasted about an hour and a half or so, from the time the first plane hit the tower to the moment the General Militia of Flight 93 reported for duty.”
Exactly right. Six decades earlier, the American people had to wait four months between Pearl Harbor and the Doolittle Raid. But September 11th was Pearl Harbor and the Doolittle Raid wrapped up in 90 minutes. Flight 93 was supposed to be the fourth of Osama’s flying bombs, its destination either the White House or the Capitol. Had it reached its target, the following morning’s headlines would have included “The Vice-President is still among the missing, presumed dead”. Had Flight 93 sheared the top off the White House, that would have been the day’s “money shot”, as it was in the alien-invasion flick Independence Day - the shattered façade, smoke billowing, the seat of American power reduced to rubble.
But the dopey hijackers assigned to Flight 93 were halfway across the continent before they made their move and started meandering back east. And, by the time the passengers began calling home on their cellphones, their families knew what had happened in New York. Todd Beamer couldn’t get through to his wife, so the last conversation of his life was with the GTE telephone operator, who stayed on the line with him and overheard his final words: “Are you ready, guys? Let’s roll!” And then a brave group of passengers jumped their hijackers and, at the cost of their own lives, prevented that day’s grim toll rising even higher. At a terrible moment for America, their heroism was the only victory of the day.
Four years on, plans for the Flight 93 National Memorial have now been revealed. The winning design, chosen from 1,011 entries, will be built in that pasture in Pennsylvania where those heroes died. The memorial is called “The Crescent of Embrace”.
That sounds like a fabulous winning entry - in a competition to create a note-perfect parody of effete multicultural responses to terrorism. Indeed, if anything, it’s too perfect a parody: the “embrace” is just the usual huggy-weepy reconciliatory boilerplate, but the “crescent” transforms its generic cultural abasement into something truly spectacular. In the design plans, “The Crescent of Embrace” looks more like the embrace of the Crescent – ie, Islam. After all, what better way to demonstrate your willingness to “embrace” your enemies than by erecting a giant Islamic crescent at the site of the day’s most unambiguous episode of American heroism?
. . . One would be unlikely even today to come across an Allied D-Day memorial so misconceived in its spirit of reconciliation as to be called the Swastika of Embrace. Yet Paul Murdoch, the architect, has somehow managed to produce a design whose two most obvious interpretations are a) a big nothing or b) a splendid memorial to the hijackers rather than their victims.
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. . . If Mr Murdoch sincerely believes in a “crescent of embrace”, let him build one – at the headquarters of a “moderate” Islamic lobby group, or in the parking lot of your wackier colleges. To impose it on Flight 93 – to, in effect, hijack those passengers a second time – is an abomination. Flight 93 is about what happens when you understand that some things can’t be embraced. Perhaps Mr Beamer and his comrades did indeed “look them in the eye” and saw there was nothing to negotiate, nothing to “embrace”. So they acted – and, faced with a novel and unprecedented form of terror, they stopped it cold in little more than an hour. Todd Beamer asked that telephone operator to join him in reciting the 23rd Psalm: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…” He knew there would be no happy ending that day, but in their resourcefulness and sacrifice he and his fellow passengers gave their country the next best thing: a hopeful ending. That’s what the Flight 93 Memorial should be honouring.
Instead, in its feeble cultural cringe, the Crescent of Embrace hands the terrorists of Flight 93 the victory they were denied on September 11th. And it profoundly dishonours Todd Beamer, Thomas Burnett, Jeremy Glick, Mark Bingham and other forgotten heroes of that flight.
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Four years ago, Todd Beamer’s rallying cry was quoted by Presidents and rock stars alike. That’s all that’s needed in that field: the kind of simple dignified memorial you see on small-town commons saluting Civil war veterans, a granite block with the names of the passengers and the words “LET’S ROLL.” The “crescent of embrace”, in its desperation to see no enemies and stand for nothing, represents the precise opposite of Beamer, Glick, Burnett and co: Are you ready, guys? Let’s roll over.